About Cemeteries

I enjoyed hearing a podcast about cemeteries as travel destinations the other evening while out dog walking. 

Last year I visited a few graveyards in northern Germany looking for neglected relatives. Since the living ones I’d been visiting weren’t too interested in the old stuff, I toured on my own.

The graves of my dad’s parents, buried in Schleswig-Holstein, have disappeared through neglect. Seems like nobody’s wanted to remember them and graves in Germany have a limited shelf-life of up to thirty years. So even though I had this nostalgic notion of finding my long-lost grandparents, I only found a few random Schröders in the Wesselburen graveyard. Maybe some of them have a family connection, but I’m not enough of a genealogy sleuth to find out. 

Instead, I enjoyed the company of the old cat who guided me amongst the graves. I noticed he had a decent little house for inclement weather.  The cemetery itself was quite beautiful and I enjoyed spending time in it. It’s much more park-like than the ones I’m used to here in Canada which are wide open with only cut flowers adorning the graves

As I ambled along the paths, imagining past lives, the orange cat followed. But the weather—suitably grey and misty—soon turned to rain. So I got back on my bicycle and the graveyard cat retreated to his shelter.

Happy hauntings. May the dead rest in peace.

A friendly travel advisory

The other day—a beautiful, windless October morning—I was hiking off trail with my faithful canine, when I had to go! Try telling that to a dog who considers any place suitable for when he has to go. Dogs have us well trained, catering to their lack of discretion with pretty little bags of every colour. But for me? Stuck in the middle of nowhere with no porta-potty in sight? Sorry, dear dog, we gotta get back to the car. NOW.  

My first thought, as we bee-lined through the farmer’s field, was of homeless people. How do they do it? Seriously, toilets are one of the basic necessities of life. When I delivered mail, I got out of the coffee drinking habit mostly because I couldn’t be guaranteed a rest stop when I needed one. 

As I hurried the sniffing dog along, I remembered a similar situation during last year’s bike trip. After we’d crossed the border from Lithuania into Russia on the Curonian Spit, there was a sudden decline in the availability and the cleanliness of the washroom facilities. We were cycling past a lot of empty fields and decided that the wilderness was a better place to go. 

Romus, our tour guide, warned us to watch out for the stinging nettle. Yes, the field was full of the waist-high weed. I’d grown up hearing about stinging nettle, called brennessel, in German. My mom and her sisters survived on it during the hunger years in eastern Germany, using it for soups and teas. 

A quick reference check, and I learn that stinging nettle, once dried, does indeed count as one of nature’s powerhouses. An anti-oxidant, it can lower blood pressure, treat arthritis, provide necessary nutrients, and even cause abortions—something the local women might have sought out in 1945 after the Red Army frenzy of rapes. 

But you shouldn't let fresh stinging nettle touch your skin . . . unless you want an itchy rash for the rest of the day.  The leaves are not to be used as a replacement for the double-layered softness of bathroom tissue.  Just a friendly travel advisory. 

Music in the Rec Room

As a kid, growing up in the sunny suburbs of St. James, the family rec room was a place for cast-offs. While my dad’s hunting trophies hung on the walls—dead deer heads, trophy fish and rifles—it was also where my mom put stuff no longer good enough for the living room. Because it usually seemed cold and had bad lighting, nobody spent much time down there—except me. 

It was where I catalogued old 78s and listened to them over and over. While my school friends listened to the Beatles or Beach Boys, I listened to Dad’s music collection comprised of hits from the thirties, forties and fifties. I loved the music and while upstairs the TV ruled with either hockey or football, I filled the basement with Dad's old music. 

Growing up in a church where dancing was considered sin, I could only invent dances to the fox trot, waltz and tango melodies, in private. I breathed in the romance of another time. 

One of my favourites was Ich Weiss es wird einmal ein Wunder Geschehen by Zarah Leanders. I imagined the German soldiers—my dad—fighting a hopeless war and yet hoping that a miracle would happen to save them from their inevitable end. No, I wasn't cheering for the Nazis, I think I was just trying to relive the tragedy of it all. 

Zarah Leanders, photo from 

Another favourite singer was Lale Andersen, singing the original Lili Marlene. (Later released by Marlene Dietrich who'd left Germany for the States.) How many times did I listen to that song and visualize the lamplight and the endless waiting?  I imagined my dad’s heart broken over and over again by his first wife whose name it was taboo to mention. I imagined Dad dancing the tango, to Roter Mohn, sung by the Chilean nightingale—Rosita Serrano. Hey Jude or Good Vibrations could not compete with my favourite music down in the rec room. 

Then one day, most of those records got broken. (I'd leaned back and put the weight of my hand on the fragile pile I’d been sorting). Now through the magic of technology, streaming has brought back the music and while out walking the dog, I'm down in that basement rec room all over again. Trying to imagine how it all went so wrong. 

Grateful for October


                                                            Moody skies, crisp temperatures, strong winds

                                                             Deep blues, golds, browns and reds

Undecided melancholy

Month of contrasts, re-found joy

Thick socks, toques, slow-cooked stews

Walking quickly, warming up.

Spotting  blossoms on tenacious plants

 refusing to succumb to killer frosts.

Tease of hauntings, whispering ghosts.

Creaking trees and burning wood.


Children of War

I have no photographs of my dad’s first marriage. The only photos I have of that 1940 union is of a gravestone for Wilhelm, who died as an infant, and another one where my dad holds a toddler. Two young boys. And my dad was their father? How could this be? 

I only got to see this photo once when I was growing up, while hiding under the dining room table. My hiding place was discovered and the album grabbed away from me. (The same thing happened when I viewed a medical book with nudity in it). It was enough to ignite my imagination. 

Who were these little boys? Why was a photo of a baby’s gravestone in the family photo album? No one would tell me. It was just one of those secrets that kids weren’t supposed to know and you know how it is about secrets . . .. It’s a challenge I’ve embraced and explore by writing my novels. My current work-in-progress focuses on my dad’s broken first marriage.

The Nazis were all about strong families, with programs to keep mothers pregnant and in the home. It’s ironic that after the war there was a higher than normal divorce rate and my dad’s first marriage was one of the casualties. He married Lydia in 1940 when mass-weddings were popular. Armistice Day November 11th—was a popular choice and each couple received a copy of Mein Kampf as a wedding gift. It was required to prove Aryan-purity and acquire an Ahnenpass —proving Aryan heritage

—before getting the marriage license. The Nazis wanted their soldiers to impregnate their Aryan women and produce new soldiers for the Third Reich. 

My dad and his first wife created two potential soldiers. Unfortunately, with the ultimate failure of Hitler’s ambitions, the two little boys died in the final months of the war. My half-brothers never got to grow up in Hitler’s planned utopia. No doubt, their deaths helped in the dissolution of my dad’s first marriage. Another factor was his five-year-long silence. As a prisoner of war, his mailings never made it to his wife and she gave up on him. Found a new lover amongst the Allies who occupied Germany.  My dad returned from USSR in late 1949, and in 1951 the marriage was officially over. 

A simple story that was never shared with me. I had to be a sleuth and figure it out on my own. Now it’s fodder for my writing brain. German readers might consider Heimkehr, 1948 edited by Annette Kaminsky where a collection of essays describes the broken marriages faced by returning prisoners of war. 


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